Monday, December 3, 2007

Teddy row teacher freed

The Spanish Muslim jurist, Imam Shatibi, who died in 1388, articulated the aims of the shariah as preservation of life, honour, property, religion and reason. Leading Muslim scholars in the Arab world today compound this classical Islamic approach. That's not to hide the reality of religious scripture, compiled in a world radically different from ours. Just as in Leviticus we find references to stoning sinners, in Muslim scripture there are some unpalatable references. But these are to be seen in the context of their time. What remain valid are the eternal truths that Shatibi, Locke and others enunciated. Our humanity must transcend adherence to scriptural literalism, especially if it leads to mayhem and loss of innocent lives. The whole purpose of religion is to bring order and harmony to our existence.

Islam is not a monolithic entity. Inherent within Muslim tradition is a plurality of thought, practice and reasoning that can help create a genuine Muslim renaissance or tajdid in Arabic. Just as scriptural references to stoning and flogging are cited by countries such as Saudi Arabia as justification for their horrid practices, in these same texts, we find that the Prophet Muhammad reprimanded his followers for stoning a person who attempted to flee. He also condemned those who killed innocent people. By drawing on these lessons, mainstream Muslims must illustrate that compassion, humanity and sense should override scriptural rigidity understood with anger and revenge.

More than any other Muslim community across the world, those of us who were born, raised and educated in the west have access to both cultures: Islam and the west. It is my generation that can bridge the gap between what seem like warring parties. Our arguments carry greater weight in the Muslim East. Western Muslims have a duty to continue developing what is a nascent phenomenon: Western Islam. We have no choice but to find common ground between our faith and our culture, Islam and the West, and then offer an alternative path to our brethren in the Muslim East.

The presence of millions of Muslims in the West is an asset with which we can bring civilisational harmony. But Western Muslims must, in the words of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 'build our home together' with fellow citizens of all and no faith. It is our common bond, being human, which comes first. Our future must be a negotiated one. The Koran repeatedly calls us to think, contemplate and reflect. For how much longer will we be the laughing stock of the world? And all over a teddy bear.

-There's far more to Islam than a teddy

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